Sunday, August 11, 2013

Determining Text Complexity

As I've mentioned here before, I'm part of the ELA Common Core Committee for my district. For the high school, there's just two of us represented on this committee and it's our job to kind of teach this stuff to the other ELA teachers at our school.

We are focusing on 6 big shifts happening in ELA, and we found a great video on Engage NY that explains in detail these 6 shifts (Engage NY has a TON of great CCSS resources, and I highly recommend browsing the site).

The one we are going to focus on first is text complexity. In a nutshell, CC is pushing for more difficult texts, which means *some* texts we have previously used at a certain grade level may no longer be difficult enough to use at that level.

So how do you know if a text is difficult enough?

One way is to see if it's listed under Appendix B which lists exemplar texts for each grade level. If it's there and under your grade level, you are fine.

If not, you have to do a little bit of work on your own to see if it will be rigorous enough. There are three things you need to do consider: quantitative, qualitative, and reader and task consideration.

The first is to see what its lexile score is. To do this, make a free account at and search for the book/short story/what have you that you want to teach. If you want to test an article that you find, you can copy and paste some of the text into, and it will analyze it for you. (Note: For poetry and drama, lexile score doesn't matter).

Use the chart below to determine which lexile score you need for each grade level. You need to look at the "stretch" lexile band.

Lexile Band
Lexile Band*
 K–1  N/A N/A
 2–3  450L–725L 420L–820L
 4–5  645L–845L 740L–1010L
 6–8 860L–1010L 925L–1185L
9-10 960L–1115L 1050L–1335L
11–CCR  1070L–1220L 1185L–1385L
That is your quantitative.

Do not fret if the text you want to use doesn't fall in the appropriate grade category yet! Remember, there are two other components to test.

Up next is qualitative. This is where you use your knowledge and prior experience with the text to run it through a checklist of sorts. I would recommend going viewing this document to give you an idea. I have pasted a sample of the document below.

 This one is for informational texts and there is a separate document for literary texts (which you can find simply by Googling). As you can see by looking at it, you simply run through each category for the text in question and mark which category you think it falls in. If your lexile level was low, and you get mostly low's for qualitative as well, then I think choosing a different, more challenging text is best. However, if you get middle high or high on qualitative, you can still consider using this text even it fell short on quantitative.

The last category is reader and task consideration. I would look at this document, which I have also done an abbreviated screen shot of below.


Again, it's up to your judgment to take the text and run through these questions with it. Depending on your answers here, you might be fine if this portion plays out, as well as qualitative, even if you are a little low on quantitative. This last portion of reader and task consideration speaks to educators' professional experience and taking into consideration the readers' purpose in reading, student motivation and interest, etc. So it's not as black and white as either of the other two portions.

As a last resort, if you feel the text falls a little short in all or even one of the areas, you can always supplement it. For instance, with To Kill a Mockingbird (the lexile level ends up really low, but we teach it to freshmen), the teachers who do this unit are supplementing with a higher-level and more challenging piece of information text to accompany it. This might be a current events article that relates, or a piece that discusses something of the time period like Jim Crowe laws, etc. If the supplemental piece is complex enough, our committee has come to the conclusion you can still use the original piece in conjunction with the more rigorous supplemental selection.

It seems like a lot of information (it was for me too), and it sounds like a lot of work just to pick a piece to read, but I think it will go faster the more you do it, and with the qualitative and reader/task portions, it's basically a list you can run through rather quickly when assessing a possible text choice.

I'm definitely not a CC expert, nor a text complexity expert; this is just what our committee worked on last week. If you find any inconsistencies or additional information from what I posted, please let me know in a comment! Or if you have additional resources to share, that'd be great!

Well we start back at school on Thurs. I spent a few hours getting my classroom prepared this morning and need to finish up some lesson plans this week. We went on vacation last week to Michigan and it was beyond beautiful. I will leave you with a couple photos from the trip. I hope you all have a wonderful start to the '13-'14 school year :)

The view of the harbor from our B&B

The sunsets were out of this world!

The beach and lighthouse

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